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News of the Day ... In Perspective


Demographic stresses increase

The effects of low birth rates and the aging of the population are beginning to be felt worldwide. The population pyramid of 1919, with few elderly and many children, now has a narrower base and a bulge of adults around age 40. By 2025, the distribution will be more top-heavy, with a still narrower base, and a bulge at age 60.

In 2005 in Germany, the dependency ratio, the ratio of nonworkers to workers, was 1.27: there were five people not working for every four who were. If labor force participation by age and sex remain the same, the ratio is projected to be 1.47 by 2025, with nearly three nonworkers for every two workers.

A possible response is suggested by James W. Vaupel and Elke Loichinger (Science 2006:312:1911-1913). “The 20th century was a century of redistribution of income. The 21st century may be a century of redistribution of work.” This might “make it easier for younger people to have the number of children they would like to have.”

These authors also suggest that “[s]ocial scientists can develop knowledge about how to move from the stultifying regime in Germany, France, and most of the European Union….”

Still more serious problems confront “motherless Russia,” according to Joseph D’Agostino. Total fertility is down to 1.3 births per woman, and 70 percent of pregnancies end in abortion. Russian men have a life expectancy on par with Bangladeshis. The population is dropping by 700,000 per year and is already 5 million below its peak 15 years ago. By 2040, the majority of the population of Russia could be Muslim. Already, there are 5,000 mosques in Russia, compared with 500 in 1990. Competing with Islam to partition oil-rich Siberia is China, which is already colonizing eastern Russia (PRI Weekly Briefing 12/21/06).

The fastest-shrinking nation on earth, Estonia, is paying mothers who take up to 15 months off work their full salary. After two years, the birth rate has increased from 1.3 to 1.5. Lithuania, Austria, and Slovenia are also experimenting with monthly cash compensation to mothers who leave work. Germany and Bulgaria will pay benefits to new mothers next year, and Vladimir Putin has promised aid to parents (Wall Street Journal 10/20/06).

Some Asian countries also face a problem of severe gender imbalance. Now that ultrasound allows parents to determine the sex of a child before birth, 7,000 girls “disappear” in India every day. About 800 girls are born for every 1,000 boys in some districts. Existing laws against sex-selective abortion are seldom enforced. Predicted consequences include increased violence against women, and forcing young girls to drop out of school and marry earlier. The problem in India is even more severe than in China, where 117 boys are born for every 100 girls (AP 12/19/06).

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